A failure by state authorities and attorneys representing prison inmates to reach an agreement on the best way to reduce overcrowding has given the state a little more time to meet its court-ordered deadline to reduce the prison population.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration was ordered to reduce the state prison population to about 110,000 or 137.5 percent of prison capacity as a way to improve the quality of inmates’ health. To accomplish that, Assembly Bill 109, the state’s prison realignment law, shifted the responsibility of monitoring lower-level inmates from the state to the counties. It went into effect October 2011.
California is at about 145 percent of prison capacity and had been given until April 18 to meet the cap.
When the mediation efforts between the state and inmates’ attorneys failed last week, which a federal three-judge panel announced Monday, both sides were given time to file written arguments, due by Jan. 28. That in turn pushed the April 18 deadline back slightly.
The panel of judges said a decision on whether to extend the deadline to reduce the prison population would be reached within a month.
“We are hopeful the court will recognize that the state has made significant reforms to our criminal justice system and will allow us an extension so we can build upon these landmark reforms,” said Jeffery Callison, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in an email exchange.
The state budget Brown presented last week assumed the judges will grant the state a two-year extension to meet the population goal.
That would give the state time to open new prison cells and allow time for rehabilitation programs to get underway.
However, some advocates feel the corrections budget is bloated and is focusing on increasing the number of jail and prison beds instead of rehabilitation.
The state is moving too quickly toward jail expansion and not toward “simple strategies that could reduce the population that advocates have been asking for for years,” Diana Zuñiga, statewide field organizer of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, said in a recent interview.
Callison, though, said the money being used for construction is to improve treatment space, not to increase the bed capacity of the jails.
If the delay is denied, Gov. Jerry Brown said the state will send the overflow of inmates to private prisons in other states.
Brown previously had sought a three-year delay.
Corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said the administration isn’t commenting on what it will propose, although she said the administration is hopeful it will get an extension.
Beatriz E. Valenzuela
Long Beach Press Telegram